Families of those killed on the A5 road have spoken of the “endless pain and suffering” they’ve endured as a result of the loss of their loved ones.
The A5 road which links Derry and Donegal to Dublin has been the subject of calls for improvement due to the high volume of fatal collisions on the road.
A scheme to turn the A5 into a dual carriageway was first approved in 2007 but has been held up by legal proceedings from an opposition group known as the Alternative A5 Alliance (AA5A).
Since 2007, 47 people have been killed in road traffic collisions on the road.
A public inquiry into the A5 resumed at Strule Arts Centre in Omagh, Co Tyrone on Tuesday, a venue which was chosen as a result of the planning appeals commissions’ recognition of “the number of people who may wish to participate in or observe the session on road safety”.
Students from schools in the A5 area, as well as representatives from Gaelic Athletics Association (GAA) clubs came to the inquiry to show their support for the scheme.During the road safety module of the inquiry, families of people killed in road traffic collisions on the A5 were given the opportunity to speak to the commissioner of the inquiry.
John Rafferty (right) with his brother Michael in Derry City. John died in a fatal A5 collision in Oct 2022. Photo: Family handout/PA
Felix Rafferty’s son, John Rafferty, was 21 years old when he was killed on the A5 in October 2022.
Mr Rafferty held back tears as he told the inquiry about his son’s death and the need for the A5 scheme to go ahead.
At this stage in the proceedings, a number of people in the auditorium were also in tears.
“We feel that had the new A5 road been built when it was meant to, John would still be with us,” he said.
“We feel strongly aggrieved that the right to life – the most fundamental of all human rights – has been allowed to become secondary to environmental considerations by those opposed to the scheme.
“Their objections have led to judicial reviews that have constantly delayed the project and these delays have cost lives.”
The AA5A opposition group has raised concerns about land use and environmental impact of the dual carriageway.
Mr Rafferty concluded his evidence by saying: “It is a matter of urgency that the scheme to build a new road gets underway without delay so that no other family has to get through the endless pain and suffering that we and other families who have lost loved ones on the A5 have had to endure every single day.
“Enough is enough.” he said.
Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy, who was the North’s infrastructure minister when the A5 upgrade was approved in July 2007, at Strule Arts Centre in Omagh giving evidence during a public inquiry. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA
Theresa Finley is the niece of Julia McSorley who was killed on the A5 in a crash just outside Aughnacloy at the end of April.
A number of children from schools in the A5 area came to the inquiry, and Ms Finley said she was giving evidence to the inquiry for the future safety of those children.
“I’m doing it for them,” she said.
“I don’t want my child or anybody else’s child coming up that road with their aspirations, going to university in hopes of being the next lawyer, the next doctor, the next nurse, whatever, plumber you name it – their lives can’t be taken away.”
Ruth and Cara McKane’s father Dan was killed in the same accident as their great aunt Julia McSorley and aunt Christine McKane.
Ruth McKane said they had lost three family members in a “split second”.
“That’s not the first time that three people’s lives have been lost on that road and then there’s plenty more lives that has been lost,” she said.
“And we aren’t the first people to get that knock on their door to say, and we don’t want anyone else to be them people. Our daddy was our everything.”
She also criticised opposition to the road being upgraded.
Ruth (left) and Cara, daughters of Dan McKane who died in April 2023 with his sister Christine and their aunt Julia McSorley in a collision on the A5. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA
“All they’re worried about is birds, trees and plants and all, but what are they compared to people’s lives? No, my daddy lost his life and they’re worried about a tree? Wise up, that’s all I have to say. This road needs to be built,” she said.
Cara McKane said the family thinks about what could have been different if the road improvements had been made in 2007.
“The what-if is still there. If that road had have been built then and there, would that accident have happened? Would Daddy and Christine and Aunt Julie still be here? That is the what-ifs. It’s just really hit close to home,” she said.
Following the victim’s families contributions, the inquiry held a minute’s silence for those killed in collisions on the A5.
Former Tyrone GAA footballer Peter Canavan, who is a teacher at Holy Trinity College in Cookstown, came to the inquiry to show support for the A5 dual carriageway.
The A5 Enough is Enough group was set up by the Tyrone GAA County Committee after the death of John Rafferty in 2022.
The group advocates for the A5 project, as three young GAA members Petey McNamee, Nathan Corrigan and Peter Finnegan died just 150 yards from the entrance to the Tyrone GAA Centre at Garvaghey in recent years.
Peter Canavan, director of sport at Holy Trinity College Cookstown. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA
Mr Canavan said he had witnessed the devastation caused by deaths on the road.
“I’ve lived on the A5 for over 20 years, I was brought up there, and I’ve witnessed it first hand, the death and devastation that that road can cause,” he said
“I’m heavily involved in the GAA, I take a lot of teams, my own children up and down from the Garvaghey centre. And I realised, not only that junction but the road itself, that you’re taking your life into your own hands every time you use it.
“So I’m weighing my support behind this today because enough is enough. How many more lives do we have to waste, how many more injuries and devastation to families must we witness? So, as I say, enough is enough – and hopefully things will move on sooner rather than later.”
The inquiry will continue for the rest of the week.